We Own the Night

Starring Don Cheadle, Chiwitel Ejiofor and Martin Sheen. Directed by Kasi Lemmons
Running Time: 118 mins
Rated: Rated M (Moderate coarse language, Moderate sexual references and sex scene, Infrequent moderate violence)

'Talk to me' was the slogan of US DJ, Petey Greene who came to prominence in the Washington DC area in the late 1960s and continued through until the 1980s.

What is significant about Petey Greene is that he fulfilled the American Dream, that someone with little background and material benefits going for him can reach the top of a profession. As the film opens, we hear Petey on the prison radio where he is serving time for theft. He then encounters Dewey Hughes, an executive at a DC station and makes him promise to give him a job. After staging a heroic talking down of a prisoner from the roof, he is freed and comes for his job, upsetting Hughes and his boss. However, with ratings slipping, Hughes decides to give him an opportunity which fails because of nerves. A second chance has him insulting Berry Gordon and being fired. However, they try again, inviting phone in - and the result is a great success. Petey talks to his audience and listens.

Why this is all more significant than a simple rags to riches story is that Peter Greene and Dewey Hughes were African Americans working at a white-owned station. It is the era of the Civil Rights movement and Petey is on air at the time of Martin Luther King's assassination and tries to calm the rioting and looting crowds. His show provided a voice for many voiceless Americans and he became a figurehead.

During the 1970s, he career blossomed under Dewey's management: more radio, stand-up comedy and television chat shows. However, there came a point on the Johnny Carson Show where he had to take stock of himself, what he was good at and be satisfied with that.

Director Kasi Lemmons (Eve's Bayou) recreates the period effectively, especially the Washington riots in 1968. And she gets fine performances indeed from Don Cheadle as Petey Greene and Britain's Chiwitel Ejiofor as Dewey Hughes. Martin Sheen is the station owner.

In interesting portrait and a reminder of different times.

Rialto Out February 21

Fr Peter Malone MSC directs the film desk of SIGNIS: the World Association of Catholic Communicators, and is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting

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